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FEBRUARY 2003 NEWSLETTER
by
JOHN GRIFFITHS

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Contact details for news, views, inclusions etc: e.mail: ddraigmor@aol.com

The News.

First up this month is that the contract for the building of the new Farstad PSV has been awarded to Ulstein Verft AS, with delivery expected in December 2003. The vessel is a new design - Ulstein P106 - with a length of 74m and a beam of 16m. She will contract, as reported last month, to Petersons Supplylink. After so much speculation as to who was building her, I received the news via my industry ‘e-weekly’. Maritime Information Systems of Hong Kong reported the news with Farstad’s own press release on their web site announcing the news a few days later. Who says news travels fast?

Offshore Shipbrokers Limited (OSL) have stated that the spot market in the North Sea was ‘fairly busy’ for a brief period during mid February, with seven vessels fixed for rig moves of the ‘Borgland Dolphin’ and ‘Deep Sea Bergen’ for Statoil. OSL also stated that the rates quoted - £5500 to £9500 for the larger AHTS involved - would possibly rise as the market tightened up, which it was expected to.

The standby (ERRV) market on the other hand is, again according to OSL, in a ‘depressed state’. Vessels have been laid up for long periods and they are being added to by operational vessels joining due to lack of charters.

It is thought that many of the older laid up vessels will either go for scrap or go overseas for further work - but are unlikely to return / remain to the North Sea. Fleet distribution of standby vessels gives some indication of how things are. For example, Boston Putford operate a fleet of 25 vessels, with 21 of them working, 2 on relief duties and 2 laid up. North Star also have 25 vessels, 19 of which are working, 3 on relief duties, 2 laid up and 1 available for charter. BUE Viking have 51 vessels, 36 of which are working, 5 on relief duties, 7 laid up and 2 available. Sealion, whilst not marketing their fleet, have 4 vessels - all of which are laid up. Possibly for sale or deployment?

Whilst it is too early to cast speculation on what will happen to Jigsaw now that Apache have taken over the Forties Field, it does tend to be looking bleak in the ERRV sector. However, as the industry is never really the same one month to the next, who is to say how things will pan out over the coming year? It could, of course, also be a case of the older vessels now definitely being outmoded and as such have outlived their usefulness. Given the storming rate at which OSV’s in general are rolling off the production lines around the world - and I still watch in amazement as they become even more complicated than the last one down the ways - the ERRV market is perhaps starting to level peg with the logistics industry in terms of modern tonnage. There are many, myself included, who will say ‘about time’ - but my comment would be  from an aesthetic point of view. Then again, the old ERRV’s based on the deep water trawlers could ride some of the roughest storms with far more grace than the average bluff bowed and flat bottomed supply boat!                                               

Newbuilding news.

Sira Offshore have placed an order with a yard in Lithuania for a VS470 Mk2 PSV, delivery scheduled for October 2003.

The hull of the Field Support Vessel ‘Stril Poseidon’ entered the water for the first time on the 7th February at Tangen Verft.

Movers and shakers.

Kleven Maritime’s Myklebust Verft have delivered the new PSV ‘Skandi Sotra’ to her owners, District Offshore. Originally planned as a sister to ‘Skandi Rona’ - delivered in April of 2002 by the same yard - her design was changed during construction to suit her owner. Built on a basic Marin Teknikk MT600 design, the modified vessel has a stern door to facilitate the loading of containers and one extra superstructure deck which can be fitted out for extra accomodation. The ship’s hull and accommodation block were fabricated in Romania and then towed to Myklebust for fitting out. The vessel has an 8 year charter with Statoil.

Apparently, Chantiers Pirou of France are building an AHTS for unspecified owners. The vessel is 69.7m oa and is expected to be delivered October of this year. Which is good news - until you look closer at the press releases and see that Chantiers Pirou are having a vessel built by Stocznia Polnocna - hull only - for delivery in August of this year. One wonders whether these are one and the same?

Comment.

I had, a couple of weeks ago, a long and very interesting telephone conversation with an ex supply boat Master. I’d like to say he was an ‘old’ hand but old seems very ageist and anyway, what’s age got to do with anything?

He had been in the supply ship game from the word go, having worked offshore not just in the UK sectors but also overseas off Africa, in the Gulf, the Gulf of Mexico and all places in between. He’d also done his time on the very first type of supply ship to enter the Northsea, the funnel aft jobs which were always at high risk of taking a sea down the funnels and knocking the engines out - not, as you can imagine, the sort of thing you’d ever want to happen to you anywhere, much less the North Sea! We spent a lot of time shooting the breeze about the ‘good old days’ which, on reflection, were halcyon like compared to the rigidity and rule bound working life which seems commonplace nowadays. To those who don’t - or can’t - remember those times, it was when the North Sea was a frontier where innovative ideas happened on a daily basis. What you didn’t know, you invented -or to be more basic if it worked, use it. If it didn’t, try something that did.

We spoke about that essential task so beloved of those who recall them now far off days, anchor handling, and how things had changed over time to become safer and easier. Nowadays, hydraulic pins and Karm forks take the place of A frames, bolt on winches and lots of wire stoppers. Work was carried out on steel decks aft, with anchors and cables coming aboard over water-lubricated rollers which had an awful habit of seizing solid when you didn’t need them to. Michael Jackson might have though he invented floor sliding ‘moon dancing’ but believe me, many of us were doing it when the Jackson Five were just starting out - and not a disco globe in sight.

If one thing stands out for me about back then, it was the rudimentary way in which we handled anchors without reference to text books, simulators or planning meetings - we just got out there and we did the job, taught there and then by someone who had done it before. Unlike this Master, I started my anchor handling aboard OIL’s ‘OIL Hustler’ - a brute of a ship back then which always looked it had been designed by someone who must have had, at one time, a lego set to play with. She wasn’t what anyone could call easy on the eye - but she got the job done and we shifted some weight of anchors without too many problems. Back then she and her sister  were state of the art, with winches enclosed and controlled by an engineer sitting in a heated ‘dog house’ under the after bridge, where the Old Man danced the ship with throttles and thruster controls. Then, that was as high tech as it got.

The Old Man would be sitting on the sticks until the job was done while the Mates took their places with the AB’s on deck to work the anchors. The engineers would be on hand to drive the tuggers for spooling or heaving buoys and / or cable out of the way and even the cook would chip in by either cooking non-stop or taking his turn on driving the wire pennant drum. It was, quite literally, an all hands operation and while the hours were long and the work demanding, we worked to that old maxim ‘once you’ve started, you only stop when it’s done’. Out on location, having started an anchor job when the weather broke the deck crew got washed up and down the deck, I often considered buying myself a wet suit. Company issue then was a pair of oilskins and wellies which, believe it or not, you shared with everyone else. You also paid for your own boiler suit and rig boots.

The Master I was speaking to evoked lots of memories of those days, including unimaginable things by today’s standards. Ships originally built for the Gulf of Mexico would run out of  UK ports as supply ships but when an anchor job came up they would be back in to have a winch bolted to the deck, an A frame welded on - and they were off again. In today’s high tech shipping world offshore it is, perhaps, inconceivable to think that when the game started, a bolt on winch with a tractor driver’s seat for the operator was normal, as was only enough deck space for two anchors, chains, wires and buoys - if you worked any more you just steamed into port, discharged your deck cargo (or handed it back to the rig)  - and then you got stuck into the job again. Cargo and anchors were worked on steel decks. Ships would tie up to a semi or platform, using ropes - in many cases, hand heaved and secured around the bitts as the Old Man worked the engines to and fro to try and keep her from clipping a leg (or two). You’d do this with an anchor down for’ad as well - so not only had you to drop the hook and fall back onto the rig, but you then had to tie the boat up, work the cargo - backload / load / hosework - the usual suspects. You’d then be on until the job was done or the weather broke - but once on, you stopped on. Oh and before I forget - the number of times the moorings parted were measured by the competence of the boat handler. A good skipper would seldom part more than one a trip - a bad one was considered a work up.....

We told some stories and we laughed, we remembered names and we glossed over cautionary tales - but we both agreed we missed the game sorely. I look on the ships working offshore now and I see they have got bigger and less labour intensive. Having said that, I wonder if cleaning the mud tanks by torchlight is still being done somewhere or digging out cement tanks is a part of the role? Do AB’s still have the dubious pleasures of stripping the alleyways of polish on the run in to port, leaving the night watchman to put the new polish down? Oh and is snatching one box out of a whole deck stack still done - knowing full well that you’ll have to re-stow the whole lot to block the space off? It can’t all be no fun on the all singin’, all dancing new tonnage that is arriving offshore. Can it?

Final note - any comments, news, views and what have you to my e-mail address at the top of the piece.

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